Shadows and Spirituality

Stephen MarshMormon 12 Comments

It seems, sometimes, that the lessons I learned on my mission are the ones I see again and again.

One of the things I learned was the difference between spirituality, religiosity and emotionalism.

I’d forgotten about it until my wife, finding herself unemployed as a stay-at-home housewife whose children had mostly died, went back to school to study nursing.  Over and over again she would encounter people who were religious, but not spiritual or who relied on emotional states to fill in for the Spirit, much like I had encountered as a missionary.

Being intensely religious fails people in emergency rooms all over the world.  Emotionality, having the emotions that go with some spiritual experiences, but without the spirit, fails people over and over again where the Spirit sustains and gives comfort.

As Naiah and many others have mentioned, the purpose of life is to encounter obstacles and experience reacting to them.  Religion, the Spirit or emotional states will not avoid obstacles for us, but only one of the three will help us react to them in ways that help us grow and give us useful experience.

Those that take other paths, such as descending into bathos in every youth experience to trigger emotional experiences or rigid rules based approaches and explanations for everything in all encompassing religious patterns are either following the sadducees or the pharisees.  I hope everyone remembers that when Christ was asked to choose between them, between the Liahona and the Iron Rod, he chose a third path.

Everything else is shadow, that fails in the end.

Comments 12

  1. Good thoughts. It’s sad that so often we descend into the wrong patterns in the true Church, even though we have access to things so much greater. And, for all the seminary lessons on D&C 8, it’s still very hard for me to discern sometimes, unless I know the spirit in which something is planned and executed.

  2. Stephen,

    Nice post.

    Have you encountered examples of LDS and non-LDS who have mastered the art of the Spirit? Or begun to master it?

  3. I have not tracked down the original source, but I like the saying I have heard in some 12-step meetings, something like–” Religion is for people afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been.”

  4. Interesting way to dilineate between spirituality, religiosity and emotionalism.

    My problem is that my spirituality (which I feel deeply) is often boxed in and/or choked out by religiosity.

    I’m not sure I understand your definition of emotionalism. Give me an example of “emotions that go with some spiritual experiences, but without the spirit.”

  5. Matt, how about the church a few miles from us where each and every sermon is prefaced by a pulse-pounding rock fest that gets the entire congregation, including children, jumping and and down and hyped emotionally – all in the name of spiritualism? Only after everyone is revved up does the preacher begin his message.

    There is an old movie that is interesting – “Leap of Faith”, starring Steve Martin. I thought there were some obvious problems, but the interplay of emotionalism and spiritualism is illustrated quite well.

  6. Stephen: Thanks for this intriguing post. I have been an active member of the Church for 40+ years and still struggle with the difference between spirituality, religiosity and emotionalism. I want to understand this difference – – and by that I mean I want to understand how it works for me in my life. But how do you figure it out? I think I now understand when I am motivated by religiosity and how to isolate those feelings. But dissecting one’s emotions so that it is understood when the spirit speaking to the heart through feelings, versus the experiencing of mere emotional feeling arising from life experience – -or whatever – – is, for me, very difficult. I would love to hear more. I would love to hear your discussion of the “third way” to which you refer.

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  8. This will turn into a never ending quagmire if you let it. For myself, I realized this pursuit was doomed to fail because in the end we each must still DECIDE if the source of our emotional reactions, flashes of insight, sudden realizations, etc, are from some supernatural source. You can vary the criteria you use to distinguish the divine from the common but if you have to be the one to decide then your certainty is essentially self-manufactured and that is NOT what anyone is looking to hang their hat of faith on, so to speak.

    The raison d’entre for the whole exercise of discerning “the Spirit”, if it even exists, is to trust in it in order to determine absolute truth, if it exists. What everyone is most likely looking for is some kind of experience with the divine that is self-confirming. Imagine someone on a desert island who has never heard of God and the idea crosses his mind that there may be such a being and he decides to speak with him and comes away from the experience understanding there is a “Holy Spirit” and actually calls it that. We all wanted a similar experience where one simply doesn’t have to decide if something is from the divine, because it is. Not because we DECIDED it was based on some criteria such as experiencing a stronger emotional reaction to some stimulus than we expected. I say, don’t bother trying. Emotional reactions are just that, flashes of insight are just that. Everyone experiences them. I don’t think it’s worth trying to become more certain of them by your own devices.

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  10. Just wanna ask if what is this shadow you are talking about…I’m not a native user of the language so I beg your pardon.
    It’s kinda intriguing when you said that Jesus chose the third path then this line “Everything else is a shadow, that fails in the end”, does this connected to path that Jesus chose and fails?

  11. Pingback: The Role of the Church in the Pursuit of Righteousness: Why It Works for Some and Not for Others at Mormon Matters

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